This WWII novel takes place in the winter of 1941-42 around the Nazi siege of Leningrad. It is a story of love, endurance and desperation under extreme war conditions. Karen must leave America to accompany her father to Leningrad, where he collaborates with a Russian composer. She leaves behind her fiancé, Bobby. Karen and her father have an opportunity to flee Leningrad before the Nazis arrive, but her father refuses. He is immersed in his music and blind to events taking place. The Nazis surround Leningrad and cut off all food, supplies, and communications. Letters between Karen and Bobby are also cut off. As food becomes scarcer, people throughout the city die and many are left frozen on the streets. Soon, the desperate even begin cannibalizing the dead. Karen’s father dies, and she is left to her own resources and tenacity to survive and escape.
On her own in the vast, frozen countryside, she meets Petr and his military-trained dog, Duck. Petr is a Russian soldier whose unit has been destroyed. They make a treacherous journey together—Karen to make her way to the city and then to America, Petr to be reassigned to another unit. The three form a strong bond of trust and love while facing extreme danger and many obstacles. Eventually, Karen must make the difficult choice between Bobby and Petr, between America or Russia, between certain life or possible death.
The author’s research into this time and place, as well as descriptions of military tactics, is impressive. I felt the suffering of the Leningrad residents and appreciated the strength and ingenuity Thumann built into the characters of Karen and Petr. The pacing was spot-on and kept me turning pages. Most endearing was the dog Duck, with his intelligence and bravery. This is a worthwhile and recommended read for its characters, historic detail of a city under siege, and a people’s will to survive.